One of the reasons Maisa Ojjeh and her family decided to leave Syria for Philadelphia last year is because one of the largest Arab-American communities in Pennsylvania is located in the city.
Ojjeh and her husband were partial owners of a restaurant in Syria before immigrating to the United States. On Feb. 10, they opened a halal food truck called Station One, located on 13th and Norris streets.
Ojjeh said Philadelphia was a prime location to relocate because of familial ties and an idea for a new business venture.
“We came from Syria because of the war, and I’ve always been good at cooking international-type foods, so we decided a food truck would be possible with the money we had brought with us,” Ojjeh said. “I have three kids and we had our own business in Syria, so I wanted to do something private here as well. We didn’t want to work for anyone else.”
She said her husband also ran his own retail clothing business while she got a bachelor of arts degree and taught science at an international school for English-speaking students. As someone who is used to being in an academic environment, Ojjeh said Temple felt like a natural choice for the truck’s location.
“We found that it’s a spot with a lot of students and pedestrians of different backgrounds and nationalities,” Ojjeh said. “As far as I’ve noticed, whoever has tried our food has come back again, so that’s been something positive. I hope we do well here.”
Although there are other food carts serving halal fare on Main Campus, Ojjeh said she believes it’s not about competition as much as it is about each truck owner achieving personal success. Since the truck is about a month old, she said she has decided to keep the menu simple for the time being, but will eventually expand it.
“There are a lot of students here who eat at a lot of different places,” Ojjeh said. “I don’t want to stay specialized with the dishes because I have a lot of things that I want to introduce. I know how to make good, sophisticated dishes that aren’t only Mediterranean or American.”
The menu has three items: falafel, samosas and kabobs. Ojjeh said she feels the dishes are fairly priced.
“They’re not cheap, but they’re not expensive,” Ojjeh said. “I hope that everyone sees that the prices are good for the quality of food and portion you’re getting. We’re not trying to benefit ourselves as much as we’re trying to gain a customer base.”
Many students who eat at the other halal trucks on campus said that price is an important factor for food trucks, along with taste.
Nicole Fassak, a senior risk management and insurance major, said she depends on Main Campus halal trucks to give her an affordable, flavorful meal.
“The food is different from any food I cook at home or get at other places,” Fassak said. “I like the different flavors of chicken and falafel. Usually each of their meals is only $4 or $5.”
For newcomers to the truck, Ojjeh said she recommends the samosa, which is a pastry filled with beef and vegetables cooked in spices such as ginger and nutmeg. She said she believes the truck’s homemade dishes will become increasingly popular among students.
“We’re putting all of our efforts into the food,” Ojjeh said. “It’s all things that we want to eat as well. We have the best ingredients – the best meats, vegetables, olive oils. We’re doing what we can, and we’re doing our best to deliver the best food, so we hope by doing that, [the business] is not going to be a wasted venture.”
Ariane Pepsin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.